I spoke with Mets outfielder and Whitestone native Mike Baxter last Wednesday at Yankee Stadium as the Mets were in the midst of their four-game sweep of the Yankees, and I asked him if he was concerned there would be a letdown in the next series, held this past weekend, when the Mets traveled to Miami to play one of the worst teams in the majors, the Marlins.
Baxter did not pooh-pooh my question but understandably invoked the time-honored ballplayer philosophy of taking it one game at a time. “Let’s get through with this series first,” he responded.
Sweeping the Yankees was a big accomplishment for our Flushing heroes, even if Robinson Cano was the only high-salaried Bronx Bomber in their lineup for the four games. Mets manager Terry Collins made it clear to everyone even before the Subway Series got underway that he considered it a very big deal for his team, and not just so that Mets fans could thump their chests for a rare change. Collins believed that beating the Yankees would inject some much-needed confidence into his troops that would result in better play for the rest of the season. Instead it looks like the Subway Series will be the centerpiece of a 2013 Mets year-in-review reel that will be rather bereft of highlights.
It would have been asking a lot from the Mets to perform with the same enthusiasm against the Marlins that they displayed against the Yankees but getting swept three straight games the way they did was a clear case of a hangover that puts Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and the rest of the characters from the “Hangover” film series to shame. To be clear, I’m talking about a hangover caused by excessive euphoria after a major accomplishment, not one caused by drinking or drugs.
Most ballplayers tend to underplay the significance of a regular season game in the first third of the season, but that was not the case with a couple of Mets I spoke with at Citi Field last week. “We feed off the energy of a ballpark,” stated pitcher Dillon Gee, two days before turning in the best performance of his career. Closer Bobby Parnell echoed Gee’s sentiment. “These must be big games. It’s rare to see so many of you guys [in the media],” he said with a smile.
Mets outfielder Marlon Byrd, who was arguably the most valuable player of the Subway Series, took a more detached view when I spoke with him the week before the crosstown showdown. “I am 35 and I have played a long time,” he said. “What I have learned is that every Major League game is special. I play as hard in front of five people as I do in front of 50,000.”
Byrd’s teammates would have fared better in Miami had they followed his philosophy.
I asked Mets pitcher Collin McHugh, who grew up in Atlanta and has not spent much time in our city, if he enjoyed the police escort for the Mets bus over the Triborough Bridge as it went from Citi Field to Yankee Stadium. “It was cool. By the way, shouldn’t you be calling it the RFK Bridge?” he replied. I explained to him that for baby boomers such as myself they will always be the Triborough Bridge, the Queensboro Bridge and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel with all due respect to the late Robert F. Kennedy, Ed Koch and Hugh Carey, respectively.
I guess that John Tortorella’s insult act wore as thin with Rangers players as it did with the media that covered the team. I remember asking the now ex-coach in February, following a Rangers win in Philadelphia, if he had thought of starting Martin Biron in goal and giving Henrik Lundqvist a game off, since the NHL season was going to be more of a grind than usual, as so many games would have to be played in a short span to make up for the National Hockey League work stoppage.
“That’s an idiotic question!” he snapped right after he dismissed a query from Newsday Rangers beat reporter Steve Zipay as idiotic as well. Steve immediately gave it back to Tortorella while I just laughed at a bit that I would have sworn Tortorella borrowed from villainous wrestlers from the WWE. Since that time I have been informed by numerous parties that Torts’ cranky rudeness was not an act but truly reflective of his real-life personality.
Rangers general manager Glen Sather fired Tortorella May 29, and it has been reported that Rangers great and Hockey Hall of Famer Mark Messier is interested in the position. While no one knows how good a coach Messier could be since he has no experience, there is no question that he can handle the media as he has always been at ease with the press.